Felix Mendelssohn showed tremendous potential from an early age. He started playing the piano at four, was composing at eight, and by sixteen he had written the magnificent Octet for Strings, Op. 20, one of the most thrilling chamber works ever composed.
The “Mendelssohn Year”, the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth, is a good reminder that his music deserves a more substantial place in the pianist’s repertoire than it usually receives. He was a fine composer, leaving us many works of the highest caliber, especially in his chamber music repertoire. We would be so much poorer without his Songs Without Words, the lovely miniatures that are indeed vocal in nature. But the composer insisted he would not reveal the words even if they existed. Words, he said, “mean different things to different people, but the song arouses the same feeling in everyone - a feeling that cannot be expressed in words.”
Felix Mendelssohn was probably the greatest improviser of the nineteenth century. In a 1844 benefit concert with Mendelssohn, Thalberg and Moscheles, all known for their remarkable improvisational skills, Mendelssohn ultimately won the day with his “wonderful shower of octaves.” English writer and musician John Edmund Cox describes another performance: “Scarcely had he touched the keyboard than something that can only be described as similar to a pleasurable electric shock passed through his hearers and held them spellbound - a sensation that was only disolved as the last note was struck and when one’s pent up breath seemed as if only able to recover its normal action by means of a gulp or sob.”
For more information about this great composer go to the Mendelssohn Project.
Portland Piano International’s second artist of the season, Jonathan Biss, discusses music and life on his blog:
“In my own unsafe journey towards wisdom, or maturity, I am holding on tightly to my questions, and to my vulnerabilities; or, to paraphrase Schnabel [from his book, My Life and Music] once again, I am suppressing safety in the pursuit of courage.
That’s the rare approach to music these days, since many young competition-driven artists seem to value the safety factor far more than the courage part.
In his humorous blog bio, Biss claims that his professional debut preceded his actual birthday by several months “when he performed, prenatally, the Mozart A Major Violin Concerto at Carnegie Hall, with the Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of Lorin Maazel.” (His mother is the great violinist, Miriam Fried.)
Biss will play several works of Felix Mendelssohn on his upcoming Portland recital, including the Variations Serieuses.
Join Portland Piano International on November 1st for Biss’s recital of Mendelssohn, Kurtag, Mozart and Schubert (the great A Major Sonata, D. 959).
“Keep your eye on Jonathan Biss. This pianist is going places…” Cincinnati Enquirer